Whilst watching this documentary I found myself frequently thinking of another of cinemas greats, Stanley Kubrick, and in particular the wonderful documentary 'A Life in Pictures' STANLEY KUBRICK : A LIFE IN PICTURES
Stanley Kubrick was the victim of some very unpleasant rumours when he was alive and due to his desire to keep his and his families life as private as possible he went to his grave never having shown the world his true self. Following his death a number of books and documentaries were released, most notably the aforementioned 'A Life in Pictures', and a completely different man was revealed; a gentle, caring, compassionate, funny and loyal man that bore no semblance whatsoever to the image portrayed in the media.
I found this really sad, and for me it was a genuine tragedy that the world never got to really know Stanley Kubrick when he was alive.
I feel this way to some extent with Woody Allen.
Yes he is more 'visible' than Kubrick and has certainly done more interviews, but it was not until I watched this fascinating documentary that I realised what a gentle, shy, charming and 'normal' man he is.
This documentary by the Oscar nominated filmmaker Robert B Weide is quite simply one of the very best that I have ever seen.
It has a very generous total running time of 192 minutes and this is spread across two discs.
The film consists of interviews with people who have worked with him (including Diane Keaton, Dianne Weist, Scarlett Johansson, Martin Scorcese, Larry David etc), peple who know him best (his sister, his second wife, a childhood friend), and experts on the film industry.
There are also a huge number of clips from his films, including some fascinating behind the scenes footage.
And finally, and most importantly, there are the interviews with Woody himself; these consist of archive interviews going back to the early days of his career, and the brand new interview footage shot especially for this documentary.
This new interview footage for me is what makes the film such a success.
Ok, the accumulated total probably amounts to about twenty minutes, but the quality of the footage and the insight it offers in to this man surpasses anything I have seen to date.
I am a big fan of the 1996 documentary 'Wild Man Blues' Wild Man Blues
and feel that up until the release of this film it offered us the best insight into Woody Allen, but for me the tone of his appearances in this new production are very different; here we see a far more relaxed man who appears to be enjoying the experience (possibly helped by what appears to be is a genuine rapport with the interviewer), and this allows him to be more honest and candid, thus leaving the viewer with a far warmer and affectionate impression.
The film covers his life, beginning with his childhood in Brooklyn (with Allen actually revisiting his childhood home in one of the films sweeter sequences) and it then moves on to cover his stand-up career; I found the part covering his stand-up absolutely fascinating, and boy was he funny!
It then moves on to his film career and apart from a couple of minor hiccups he was more or less an overnight success.
His film career is pretty much unparralled, on average one a year since he started and apart from the odd exception he has written, directed, and more often than not starred in, over fifty (yes fifty!) movies.
The various controversies are also featured, with the way in which the breakdown of his relationship with Mia Farrow happened being particularly fascinating.
One of the good things about Woody Allen is that he is not afraid to voice his disappointment with his films (infact he is well known for not being happy with just about all of them!), this willingness of his to discuss failure allows for those he knows to also acknowledge the fact that he does have the ocassional misfire, this is refreshing to hear from such a major filmmaker.
The documentary is presented in an aspect ratio of 16:9 and the audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround.
There are also some pretty impressive extras:
1. 'The New Yorker'
2. 'Woody Allen in Idaho Story'
3. '12 Questions'
5. 'Director Interview'
6. 'Back to Brooklyn'
7. 'Woody Allen's Favourite Actor'
8. 'BFI Live: A Conversation with Robert B Weide'
My personal favourite is '12 Questions', here we really get to see Woody at his most relaxed and he comes across as a really great person.
Overall I think it is a absolutely fantastic film/documentary, on my first viewing I intended to watch just the first half but I was so engrossed I ended up watching the entire three hours (much to my fiance's annoyance!).
For me the best thing about this film is that the viewer gets to see one of the greatest, and most misunderstood, directors at his best in his lifetime, too often society only truly appreciates some of its greatest contributors when they are gone; whilst Woody Allen is nearly eighty years old he certainly appears to have plenty of life left in him and hopefully he has enough time left to finally make that thing that has eluded him most, a film he is completely satisfied with!